In the midst of a difficult stretch that is threatening to derail their playoff chances, the Columbus Crew have changed coaches in hopes of sparking a late-season turnaround.
Brian Bliss will make his Columbus coaching debut Wednesday night when the Crew look to gain ground on the visiting Houston Dynamo, who are tied for the Eastern Conference's final postseason spot.
Columbus (8-13-5) has dropped eight of its last 11 matches and is in eighth place in the conference, eight points back of fifth-place Houston and New England with eight to play.
On Monday, general manager Mark McCullers fired Robert Warzycha, who spent five years at the helm and is tied for the most regular-season wins in franchise history. He lost his final two games, falling 4-0 to Real Salt Lake on Aug. 24 and 1-0 to Seattle on Saturday.
"Time will tell, but I know Brian Bliss is an exceptionally good coach," McCullers said. "It's going to be a different voice. It's going to be a different perspective. I'm hoping and I'm very optimistic that this is going to spark the team and that we're going to make a run at the playoffs and try to get in this year."
Bliss, the Crew's technical director who also served as interim coach for the Kansas City Wizards in 2006, knows he has a tough challenge ahead of him. McCullers said Bliss will have every opportunity to be named the full-time coach as well.
"It's going to take me a couple weeks to find my feet a little bit, but it's certainly not uncharted water," Bliss said. "I hope to be able to lay some groundwork for some things next week when we have a full week of training. This week will be difficult because it's two games in four days and you have one of them away. It's not easy to get things turned around that quickly."
Columbus fell 3-1 to the Dynamo on Aug. 3 as Houston captain Brad Davis converted a penalty kick and Will Bruin had a goal and an assist.
The Dynamo (10-8-7), the two-time defending East champions, have a game in hand on New England and trail fourth-place Philadelphia by two points, but they have two matches in hand on the Union. They are coming off a 1-all draw with Chicago on Saturday after Adam Moffat scored in the 90th minute to cancel out defender Bobby Boswell's own goal.
"I think it's a deserved point," keeper Tally Hall said. "It's great to be able to have a performance where you're ending the game with so much effort and get a result out of it."
Houston is 4-2-2 over its last eight following a rough 0-4-3 stretch.
"This is a team that's fighting," Davis said. "Things haven't gone the way we'd like them too. (Saturday is) another example that shows what we're capable of."
The Dynamo snapped a nine-match (0-3-6) winless streak versus the Crew with last month's victory.